Overseas and service personnel voters will be given more time to return their ballot papers under proposals to extend the electoral timetable published today by the government.
The electoral timetable for UK Parliamentary elections will be extended to 25 days ahead of the poll, 8 days earlier than under the current system, providing extra time for postal votes to be sent and returned. The measures will also ease pressure on those who administer elections.
Mark Harper, Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, said:
The existing timetable for elections is extremely tight and makes it very challenging for postal votes to be turned around.
By extending the timetable we are making it easier for those who live overseas to vote in elections, including those of our brave troops who are fighting hard to give this freedom to others.
Under the existing system, postal votes can not be issued to registered electors until at least 11 working days before the poll. The time taken to print and issue the postal votes shortens this window even further and means that voters, particularly those overseas, are left with a small timeframe within which to complete and post back their ballot paper. The new provisions will mean that the printing and issue of postal votes to registered electors can begin 19 working days before the poll. The new arrangements provide for a significant increase in the time that electors will have to receive, complete and return their postal vote.
The provisions are published in draft legislation alongside two other proposals, which will ensure consistency in electoral law. An oversight in existing legislation will be addressed to allow a candidate standing for two or more parties in a UK Parliamentary election to use an emblem on their ballot paper. Jointly-nominated candidates can not currently put any emblem down, but under the proposed system they will be able to put down one from one of the parties they are representing. This issue has primarily affected candidates standing on behalf of the Labour Party and the Co-operative Party. Changes will also be made to the bring the timing of polling place reviews in line with the new 5-year cycle for the UK Parliamentary boundary reviews.
The draft legislation is intended to form part of a package of elections measures including individual electoral registration which has already been published separately for pre-legislative scrutiny. The Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee will now consider the clauses before legislation is introduced next year, to be implemented in time for the next general election expected in 2015.